Singapore

New laser eye surgery to be rolled out at more hospitals

In July last year , Mr Tan Beng Wee became the first person in the world to undergo femtosecond laser-assisted pterygium surgery (Flaps).

Performed at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), the new laser surgical technique is used to treat pterygium, an eye condition affecting about one in every seven people here.

Pterygium is a benign fleshy wing-shaped growth that usually occurs in the inner or outer corners of the eye.

Since Mr Tan's surgery, 35 successful procedures have been performed at SNEC, and Flaps will be rolled out in more hospitals next year.

For 30 years, the 61-year-old businessman lived with discomfort and redness in both eyes and had to contend with unsightly lesions.

A visit to the SNEC in 2014 found that he had pterygium. Left untreated, it could induce astigmatism and cause blurred vision.

"I was quite embarrassed when speaking and making eye contact with others. My eyes were always red and they made people so uncomfortable, some would even look away," he said.

I was quite embarrassed when speaking and making eye contact with others. My eyes were always red and they made people so uncomfortable, some would even look away. Mr Tan Beng Wee

Mr Tan repeatedly shelved plans to seek treatment till last year, when the lesions became noticeably larger and began growing towards his pupils.

The current gold standard for pterygium treatment -conjunctival autograft (CAG) - involves using tissue under the patient's upper eyelid and demands a high level of surgical skill and experience to obtain a thin graft. Complications are more likely to develop if a surgeon is less experienced.

Associate Professor Jodhbir Mehta, head and senior consultant of the corneal and external eye disease department at the SNEC, said: "When CAG is done manually, a considerable amount of skill is needed to cut an autograft as thin as possible and if it is too thick, chances of the pterygium recurring are much higher."

Flaps, however, uses the same laser technology applied in cataract and Lasik surgery to precisely harvest an ultra-thin conjunctival graft, which can be easily achieved.

It cuts the conjunctiva without leaving a scar, which cannot be achieved manually.

Flaps patients are less likely to redevelop pterygium lesions with no recurrence cases reported in the operations performed to date.

In comparison, an estimated 3 per cent to 16 per cent of CAG patients experienced regrowth of the pterygium lesion.

Flaps costs about $200 to $300 more than existing pterygium treatment options.

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